Where Albion Ends - Week 4a - sous les pavés la plage
While the rest of the country melts Brighton sheds its clothes and drinks cider on the pebbles by the sea. Not so much fiddling while the world burns as paddling. Sometimes I try to imagine the pebbles are actually grains of sand and all the people are just incredibly small. But I’ve been drinking in the sun for a while and my brain is probably the size and texture of a baked potato by now. Welcome to Summer in England, the first person to complain is given a meat hamper and crowned Prince Dickhead.
Of course I’m playing Pokemon, when it first came out, back when “apps” were still called “programs” so don't fuck with me, I played it for two straight days , the only reason I know I paused for food is because I don’t specifically remember passing out.
Let's be clear it's buggy as fuck, and feels unfinished with no clear tutorials, almost random GPS, no in game interaction outside the baffling gym systems and servers that fall over whenever school finishes or somebody puts the kettle on.
But it is compelling. The drive to collect and level up the creatures inside the game is absentmindedly addictive. And its penetration into the current zeitgeist is staggering, although not that surprising, #realityisbleeding folks. I do suspect it may all go away if there isn't more elements of gameplay added soon, the jump between catching pokemon and being able to compete at any of the gyms is getting wider and while novel I can see the casual user walking away after a month or so.
Im not throwing my hat in with the scores of detractors by the way, people positively scrabbling over themselves to be the first to decry it. Breathlessly panting about how childish it is. I mean it is childish, but so is football. I personally don't think collecting fictional cartoon monsters is any more childish than collecting sports statistics, or photos of landmarks visited for a slideshow nobody wants to see “have you done New York yet?” yuck, or concerts lived entirely through the screen?
We created a culture that fetishies information, built machines that function as portals to the entire sum of the world's data, then wring our hands when our kids won't put their phones down. We basically want the next generation to have the childhood we had, not realising that the childhood we thought we had has been polished by nostalgia and straight up fucked together with idealised tv sitcoms and shadows of Enid Blyton stories.
Sidenote - I bet the Google Glass guys are all giving the stink eye to whoever in the office decided to release it a couple of years before the killer app that would have saved it.
The surprising thing is how social it is. This is a small park just in front of my house.
As you can see it has been blessed with several pokestops (a place that drops useful in game items) close together. Its popularity means these stops nearly always have lures attached (power ups that attract Pokemon to catch) and therefore attracts more players.
Here's what that space looked like in “real” life yesterday on my way down. And I assure you, yes they are all looking at their screens but they’re all chatting. And later on drinking, and singing the pokemon theme tune together.
The Situationists were a collective of artists, writers, and the sort of high strange thinkers that would have got them stoned to death in the Dark Ages. they were mainly a reaction to “the Spectacle” the machinery of Capitalism designed to distract us from what was actually happening and being present in our own lives. Cities were the home to the Spectacle especially, Situationist wanted to subvert the Spectacle and encouraged recontextualizing the city by exploring it using maps from other cities, using spaces out of context, and playing games that confused the cities normal users.
Situationists described culture as a “rigged game” explaining that the Spectacle will always reappropriate any outside art or ideas and sell it back. I think what they did not account for is how quick this process would accelerate, yes Pokemon Go can be seen as the appropriation of Situationist ideas by capitalism, but I choose to see a whole new generation being introduced to the idea that the spaces and rules we encounter everyday are just a consensus reality. A fountain is just a fountain until enough people decide it's a pokestop, or a swimming pool, or portal.
The mortar holding the bricks of reality together just got looser.
I saw a life saved today. On the beach right in front of me.
We, that is me and Pete, were celebrating putting up shelves and we found ourselves on the beach. Pete, a large Irish country boy, and me using cheap lager as suntan lotion and enjoying one of those long hot afternoons that you pray for while hiding under February's duvet.
“I can swim to Africa” says Pete who can’t. To be fair to him he doesn't say this out of the blue, and he did later go on to prove he is at least a competent swimmer. But he did say it and it's quite a mad thing to say. We decide he should suspend his Atlantic trip to swim to the buoys out in the sea and back and see how he feels.
I watch as a nearly two metre tall pasty irish fella steps over the family picnics and smooching couples, and wades into the blue green sea like a celtic godzilla and go back to catching the Pollywags that crowd the Brighton coast.
After a while out of the the corner of my eye I see the lifeguards run to the shore, kneel on their boards and head straight for Pete. Pete seems to be okay, he's heading for the buoy and the boat moored near there and will, knowing Pete, within minutes be aboard with a drink introducing himself to the captain, like, well, an Irish guy at a on a party boat.
But, I realise, he has waved at me a couple of times. What if the lifeguards saw that and thought he was in trouble? Fuck it, they’re the ones with binoculars, what if he wasn't waving and was actually in trouble?
The lifeguards catch up and then pass Pete and disappear around the boat. A minute later a speed dinghy bounces over the water and also disappears around the boat. Soon later it skips from behind the boat and heads for the shore in front of me. Visible on the boat is someone administering chest compressions with the rib breaking velocity and Nelly the Elephant rhythm you’re taught on courses you hope you never get to test.
Once its landed they carry the bundle of pale twigs I presume ia a person onto the beach, lay them down, and continue the compressions. Nearby somebody turns off the music they had been playing at obnoxious levels.
A woman in a sundress clearly not designed for this sort of thing jogs over, a lifeguard clearly ready to shoo her away exchanges a few words and lets her past. She immediately takes charge, ripping open pouches and doing things with tubes.
More lifeguards come. The chest compressions stop but people still buzz around. Soon enough an ambulance crew come, more sterile packaging is ripped open. Everybody on the beach nearby is watching.
Another ambulance crew crew arrive with a board, the guy is strapped onto it and carried away, he raises his head a little and the beach break out into applause, not cheers or woos I note, british snooker applause.
The music is put back on.
What struck me was not how precious or fragile life is, but how banal death is. How ordinary it could have been. Had something gone wrong, how long before the music was turned on again? How big of a radius would have the grief of the crowd spread? I suppose death is banal, but life, if you try, has the potential to be weird, extraordinary, sweeping, and fabulous, but that is entirely up to you.
Okay this one got away from me a little, next time will be shorter, i’ll probably do some book recommendations or something. Until then, stay weird.